Thursday, 10 May 2012

Review: Garbage at the Troxy, 9th May 2012

The Troxy is a funny old venue. Based in Limehouse, a nondescript east-of-centre area of London, it's somewhere between a modern conference hall and a 1930s music hall. My scene-savvy friend R informs me that bands with a large underground following play there reasonably often, but in a lifetime of living in London it's the first I've heard of it.

Five of us are gathering in a grotty little pub by the station to see Garbage. Everyone has a tale to tell. R says she's seen Garbage a few times and yet it never occurred to her to care until relatively recently. K had a ticket to see them in 2005, just before they announced their split. I have been waiting to see them for nearly 12 years, their songs a faint but insistent echo of my childhood and early teenage years. Other people we know drift in and out, shouting greetings as they go. Y is the only straight woman among us.

None of us is that bothered about seeing the support. R protests, weakly, when it becomes clear that we plan to give them a miss, but B hasn't arrived with our tickets so we don't have that much of a choice. I've little truck with support bands, myself - I can count the number of times they've been a pleasant surprise to me on the fingers of one hand, and I'm hardly a stranger to live music. Shirley Manson salutes them on stage, and frankly, why anyone would want a greater accolade than that is beyond me.

When I was 10, Shirley Manson was the cool, beautiful frontwoman I dreamed of being when I grew up. As I grew up, I came to appreciate the band's transgressive gender politics, their driven, high-gain riffs, their use of electronic sounds, the variety in their song structure. I wanted to be a Shirley Manson, in a Garbage, and in many ways I still do.

Due to my dislike of close physical contact, I switch tickets with Y, who's in seating. I'm used to the seated portion of a gig being sedate - even boring, sometimes - but up here everyone's focused. The air is alive with anticipation, as you'd hope from a crowd that's been waiting seven years or more for this. When the music started, the crowd in the seats is bouncing, punching the air, easily as excited as the throngs by the stage below.

They're electrifying.

That they play most of the old favourites is a part of it, certainly. Everyone's overjoyed to hear them, and Shirley seems to revel in the familiar sounds. She often points the mic at the audience, urging them to sing along with the "Go, baby, go" refrain of Cherry Lips. She quips about her inital ambition to spend the entire gig in the vertiginous heels she came on stage in, as a willing stage hand helps her into some flat boots. She prowls the stage, spending quality time with all the other band members and eventually introducing them, playing up their talents. She's living it, throwing her head back ecstatically to add her voice to the mix.

The sound balance isn't always perfect, but it's better than I'd usually expect from a venue that size. The vocals and half the synth is hard to hear from the back, sometimes, but levels are generally well managed.

And the sign of a good gig, for me, is what happens afterwards - the excitement that Y and I share on our tube journey homewards and on the following day, and the way I can't stop listening to their records and daydreaming of the light and shade the band casts whilst on the stage. If you haven't got tickets to Garbage's gigs in July, I would urge you to take a long, hard look at your life.